A set from the Tleilaxu Music Machine begins as many electronic performances do, with a boy and his laptop working together to create the midtempo electro dance sound of now. But within a few minutes, D. Bene Tleilax will shift gears, drastically increasing the tempo until it reaches a point where the groove disappears and is replaced by the repetitive pound of a distorted kick drum. He will find the zone here, when dancing in the conventional sense becomes impossible, and the 25-year-old from Orange County will begin to bounce frantically, his dreadlocked hair flying in his face while his bracelet-covered arms punch air. The crowd feeds off of this, moving more like a mosh pit than a dance floor, coming close to imitating a scene from a rave in the 1990s, when techno aggression morphed into what became known as hardcore, or gabber.
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D. Bene Tleilax: Merging techno and metal and going ape shit.
“With gabber or hardcore, it’s the intensity of it, the rawness,” explains Tleilax, who plays Echo Curio on June 20. “It’s just one solid, deep heartbeat.”
“It seemed to be pushing so many things to their logical extremes,” adds Captain Ahab’s Jonathan Snipes, who recently performed at Pehrspace as part of the gabber-punk collaboration called Gabbertree vs. Realicide. “You guys created this 300-beats-per-minute pounding kick drum that is, to me, a baffling aesthetic, but you guys are dancing to it. It’s party music.”
Once a driving force of the rave era, gabber waned at the dawn of the millennium, as many of its original producers opted to slow the tempo and create tracks more in line with hard house or trance. But that frantic, bass-drum-driven beast originally associated with the city of Rotterdam has resurfaced in Los Angeles, reconfigured for digital artists living in a loft-party age.
Like his contemporaries, Tleilax often melds hardcore electronic beats with grindcore-style vocals, the deep, unmelodious growl further intensifying the frenetic rhythm. More akin to metal than house, this certainly isn’t music for the weak.
Eustachian, whose members Tony Welter and John Roche are based in L.A. and San Francisco, embodies this new model. The duo formed in 2000 after the two childhood friends decided to fuse Welter’s background as a punk/metal drummer with Roche’s electronic leanings, which stemmed from his work as a DJ. Roche cites experimental electronic artist Venetian Snares as a seminal influence for today’s gabber-based artists, one who was “shattering ideas of what hardcore could be. We went ape shit,” says Roche of first hearing the Canadian producer. “We took the ball and ran with it.”
Eustachian, who recently remixed death-metal outfit the Berzerker, is part of a generation of 20-something artists who were exposed to both extreme styles of techno and metal in their formative years; for them, it’s not a question of one or the other but rather, how do you combine both?
“Hindsight has provided kids today with some real insight on how to make that music work,” says Sean Carnage, who has booked many of the gabber 2.0 artists for his DIY Monday Night parties at Pehrspace. Part of this stylistic resurgence is due to technological advancements, he adds.
“[Technology has] really enabled these young performers, who are kind of mining that style to go nuts in a performance space, and that’s really what the music needed, because there isn’t really any rhythmic combustion happening when you’re using a drum machine,” Carnage explains.
More than a decade ago, gabber spawned happy hardcore, an oft-mocked form of dance music that keeps its predecessors’ high tempo but replaces the aggressiveness with sweeping melodies and vocals that are typically pitched to chipmunk frequencies. If sonic trends are cyclical, then a revival of these candy-coated beats is on the horizon as well. At the very least, happy hardcore is impacting Tleilax’s work.
“It’s less embarrassing to be into gabber and hardcore than happy hardcore,” Tleilax admits. “With happy hardcore, lyrically it’s all about love and, ‘Let’s fly away to outer space.’ A lot of times, it’s extremely cheesy.”
The producer’s interest in happy hardcore is genuine, though, and he expresses no desire to be a genre purist. “I want to mix it up,” he says of his tracks, “be super intense and dark at one point and then go superhappy crazy.”
The Tleilaxu Music Machine plays Echo Curio on June 20.